Superior apps sought for Windows Phone 7

March 15, 2011 - 0:0

When it comes to supplying the coolest smartphones on the planet, Microsoft has long been an also-ran. So last fall, the software giant fired up a fresh strategy to close the gap on Apple's iPhones, Research In Motion's BlackBerrys and Google's Android models.

Microsoft's goal is for Windows Phone 7 (WP7) smartphones to have the most useful and user-friendly applications. The company is methodically pursuing this goal by catering to the best and brightest app developers.
The ""jury is still out as to whether this turns out to be a decisively winning strategy,"" says software applications analyst Al Hilwa at research firm IDC. ""But Microsoft has certainly begun to right its course.""
Smartphone apps have become almost as important as the phone itself. They enable on-the-go people to shop, play games, schedule their lives and connect to social media.
Free apps that do trivial tasks number in the hundreds of thousands for iPhones and Androids.
More crucially, the market for higher-quality paid apps — which help people use their phones more as Internet-connected computing devices — more than doubled to $2.2 billion in 2010, up from $828 million in 2009, according to research firm iSuppli.
Apple dominates the paid-apps market, with an 82.7% global market share. RIM is a distant second, with a 7.7% share. Microsoft doesn’t even register.
To play catch-up, Microsoft last October dumped its clunky Windows Mobile operating system and launched an all-new platform, WP7 that plays to one of its core strengths: tight relationships with top software developers.
The company took its NET framework — a system for nurturing development of business applications for Windows server and desktop computers — and grafted it on to WP7. In just four months, 25,000 developers have registered to create WP7 apps. They have created 8,000 apps and are churning out new apps at an average rate of 100 a day, says Larry Lieberman, Microsoft senior product manager.
Early successes include deep integration of social-networking sites Facebook and Twitter and movie service Netflix, which means users can access these popular services from WP7’s main dashboard without opening a separate app.
""Many developers are finding that it is taking (much) less time to build equivalent applications for our phone than the other phones,"" Lieberman says.
Last month, Amazon released an app that lets shoppers view content in a continuous stream by swiping left to right on the screen of a WP7 handset. To do the same thing on an iPhone or Android, you have to open and close new pages.
Sam Altman, co-founder and CEO of location-based, check-in service Loopt, raves about the help he got creating an app that lets users quickly locate friends who may be nearby. Only on WP7 does Loopt's app launch with minimal fussing. ""They went way out of their way to help us with everything we needed,"" says Altman. ""No question, paying attention to developers is definitely a good move.""
Lieberman acknowledges that Microsoft still has a long way to go. In the fourth quarter of 2010, the Android operating system commanded a 32.6% market share of handsets shipped globally, followed by Nokia’s Symbian platform, with a 30.3% share, according to IDC. Apple and RIM followed with shares of 16% and 14.4%, respectively. Microsoft had a 3.8% share.
But Microsoft recently forged a partnership with Nokia. ""It's now a three-horse race,"" Nokia CEO Stephen Elop declared at a London press conference announcing the alliance.
Nokia and Microsoft face a complex challenge delivering a new line of WP7 smartphones that can grab attention away from Androids, iPhones and BlackBerrys, says Forrester analyst Charles Golvin.
One thing seems certain: Keeping top app developers engaged will be pivotal. The ""companies must convince developers to raise the priority of Windows Phone 7 as they bring innovative products to market,"" says Golvin.
(Source: USA Today